Nigel Roebuck

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Reflections
– Ferrari’s starring role in FIA/FOTA rules row
– Did Jean Todt help to keep Mosley in power?
– The Old Man knew how to get his way in F1…
– Recalling Silverstone’s earliest Grands Prix

Wasn’t that refreshing?” a colleague said as the post-race press conference in Barcelona concluded. “Three good blokes, no affectation, no PR bullshit…”

Everyone agreed. It hadn’t been the greatest race (although pretty good by Barcelona standards), but most in the press room were pleased by the result, not least because everyone likes Jenson Button, Rubens Barrichello and Mark Webber. Brawn and Red Bull – the two leading teams in the 2009 World Championship thus far… Three months ago not too many would have bet that way.

By common consent the racing is much improved this year, and for that we have to thank the drastic rule changes, long overdue but no less welcome for that. I’ve got used to the look of the new cars now, and actually I rather like them, free as they are of most of the unsightly aero bits and pieces of the past.

On the track, then, all is well, as far as I’m concerned. It pleases me greatly that the status quo has been shaken up, that we have a different set of front-runners at last. The situation may not go on indefinitely, but for now let us savour it, and leave the spoiled brats to whinge in the wings.

Off the track, alas, it was a very different story in Barcelona. Even on race morning team principals were sitting in huddles, talking intensely. “See, that’s not what they should be doing right now,” remarked Jackie Stewart. “The race is two or three hours away, and that’s what they should be thinking about. Instead of that, they’re talking about the problems with the FIA. FOTA should have a CEO doing that on their behalf…”

Ah, the problems with the FIA. Max Mosley wants a budget cap for 2010, and most of the teams do not. Mosley also wants – or wanted – a two-tier rules system for next year, and all of the teams do not. Five of them – Ferrari, Renault, Toyota, Red Bull, Toro Rosso – said they would not enter for next year’s World Championship unless these FIA innovations were rescinded. The closing date for registering intent to compete in the 2010 championship is May 29.

I think back now to a conversation with Bernie Ecclestone at Magny-Cours in 1995. Bernie was at his most forthright at the time, which is to say very forthright indeed.

“We’re the best, right? Formula 1 is the best, and we don’t need anything in it that isn’t the best.

“People go on about only 20 cars in the race – so what? If I got someone who hadn’t been to races to look at the grid today, they wouldn’t know whether there were 16 or 25. What I want to get away from is breeding people who shouldn’t be in Formula 1. Frankly, at the moment there are people in it who shouldn’t be in it.

“The size of the field doesn’t bother me at all. It’s much better for us to have a smaller, better quality grid, than have a lot of w******. We’re in the quality business, not quantity.”

So that was pretty unequivocal. Mind you, later in the interview he added this: “The world changes so fast these days, doesn’t it? Any guy who starts talking about what’s going to happen in four years’ time is an idiot. A complete idiot. Long-term planning is a nonsense…”

Bernie, as we know, has always been a man to think on his feet, to adapt to changing circumstance. The size of the F1 field may not have bothered him at one time, but now it has become apparently crucial to attract new teams, to aim for 26 cars on the grid. Hence the sudden emphasis on budget caps, on ‘funding’ available to debutant teams, and so on.

Some say this new policy is a hedge against the manufacturers taking their leave of Formula 1 in this era of financial meltdown. If Honda found it an expense impossible to justify any more, why should not Renault or BMW or Toyota follow their lead? No one is selling cars, after all, and companies like this do not go racing for reasons of altruism.

Whatever else, Ecclestone plainly cannot afford to find himself suddenly left with only five or six teams, for all the contracts he has so assiduously negotiated – with circuits, with TV companies – are apparently predicated on a minimum number of participating cars.

I have no quarrel with anyone attempting to bring in new teams – so long, that is, as strict quality control is applied. As Bernie said, “F1 is the best, and we don’t need anything in it that isn’t the best”. Anyone with memories of Andrea Moda would go along with that.

Getting across to the existing teams – or most of them, anyway – the appeal of budget caps has proved a tricky putt to sink. When FOTA was formed last year, its members were already aware of a need seriously to cut costs, and the credit crunch further amplified that. At a FOTA press conference in early March Luca di Montezemolo announced plans in this direction – and plans that had been unanimously agreed by the members. At the same time he stressed the need for the ‘three corners of the triangle’ – the FIA, FOM (Formula One Management – ie, Ecclestone and CVC), FOTA – to work together for the good of F1’s future.

Before long, however, it became clear that the other ‘corners’ weren’t much interested in that. As the lynchpins long ago of FOCA (Formula One Constructors Association), Messrs Ecclestone and Mosley were only too aware of the power created by unity, and they never hesitated to capitalise on it in their ceaseless battles with the governing body, then headed by Jean-Marie Balestre. Now, having changed sides, the last thing they wanted was a similar body standing up for its rights.

Therefore little or no interest was shown in FOTA’s recommendations. Mosley was intent on initiating a budget cap, and that was the end of it. So many times we have heard Max speak of the need ‘to save these people from themselves…’

Mysteriously, something the FIA president seems never to have grasped is that people do not care to be patronised. In Barcelona one team principal put it this way: “An F1 team is a business like any other, and none of us wants to go bust. Agreeing between ourselves, we’ve cut costs by 40 per cent this year, with further cuts planned for 2010. We’re not idiots – we know what we can afford, and what we can’t. And we resent an outside agency – which has no investment in any of our businesses – telling us how much we can spend.

“We all know about the financial situation. There have been massive redundancies across the world – when a company needs to cut costs, unfortunately it’s unavoidable, and F1 has not been immune from that. But that’s one thing. If this proposed budget cap were imposed, though, we’d all have to make large numbers of people redundant – and unnecessarily…”

And what about the ‘auditing’ proposed by the FIA? “Well, of course we don’t like the idea of people from outside coming in to inspect our books – who would? For one thing, where would the information go? You’d have thought Max and Bernie would understand this. After all, when were FOM’s books ever laid open for inspection? Or the FIA’s, for that matter? Doesn’t seem to be much evidence of ‘budget caps’ there…”

Seemed like a fair point.

In the Barcelona paddock I got the impression that FOTA’s togetherness, in the face of concerted attempts to destabilise it, was holding up pretty well, particularly at the ‘top end’. That said, it’s not difficult to understand why a man like Frank Williams, for all his long-standing conviction that ‘F1 is a meritocracy’, would welcome a budget cap, for FW’s team is not in bed with a major manufacturer. A few years ago, when the now-defunct Grand Prix Manufacturers Association was planning a breakaway series, Frank was readily persuaded to stay on board with Ecclestone and the FIA: the GPMA, he said, had offered little to an ‘independent’ team such as his.

What killed the GPMA, though, wasn’t Williams’s renewed commitment to Ecclestone, but di Montezemolo’s. For a long time Ferrari had appeared to be on board with the other manufacturers, but Bernie well knew that if he got Luca to defect all the others would ultimately follow. As he revealed earlier this year, he therefore offered Ferrari 80 million reasons why they should remain in the official FIA F1 World Championship, whereupon di Montezemolo’s enthusiasm for the GPMA evaporated.

Clearly, by making public the extra monies going to Ferrari, Ecclestone was hoping to stir dissension in the ranks of FOTA, but as Toyota’s John Howett said at the time, everyone had long known about Ferrari’s ‘special financial arrangements’, even if they had hitherto not been officially acknowledged. It wasn’t a problem.

Ferrari was indeed a special case, a company – a brand – that brought more to the F1 party than any other, and everyone recognised that.

More recently, though, in a letter leaked to the press, it was revealed that since 1998 Ferrari had had the right of veto over technical regulations in F1 – and that had not been known to the other teams, let alone the outside world. Something of the kind might have been suspected, in light of certain outwardly inexplicable events, but it was not known.

Again the clear purpose of the leak was to cause strife within FOTA, but if the hope had been to spawn condemnation of Ferrari it rather backfired on the FIA, for the principal response was, ‘What the hell kind of governing body agrees to its rules being approved – or not – by one competitor?’

And you can go on from there. Was the right of veto on technical regulations sought by Ferrari? If so, why was it granted? Or, then again, was it perhaps offered?

A far more disturbing scenario, this, than any special financial arrangement.

If, within FOTA, some are in favour of a budget cap and some are not, there has been no disagreement whatever about the FIA’s ‘two-tier’ proposal, under which those teams agreeing to a budget cap would be allowed to run their cars to looser – and faster – technical regulations, both mechanical and aerodynamic. Whatever else, all the teams maintained, that idea is out, and quite right, too: not only was the notion patently fatuous of running cars of differing specifications in a Grand Prix, it was also potentially dangerous.

In Barcelona a team principal – no pack drill, etc – told me that he had given a pair of his senior engineers the task of evaluating the performance difference between a ‘standard rules car’ in 2010 and a ‘budget cap rules car’. This they had undertaken diligently, he said. And their estimate of the difference? “Three seconds a lap…”

It was… surprising, I thought, that such a nutty proposal should have come from an authority otherwise obsessed with safety. Then again, perhaps it was only ever a bargaining tool in the first place. Such things are not unknown, after all.

John Howett, who did not come to the job of Toyota team president as a racing man, is so often a voice of calm common sense in a fevered paddock. Like many other team principals, at Barcelona he spoke of his concerns about not only the budget cap and the two-tier rules, but also the very way the FIA runs the sport.

“Under the rules as they are published, we cannot,” Howett said, “submit an entry for the 2010 World Championship. Something will have to change significantly. There are concerns about the governance process within the sport; there are clearly prescribed areas of discussion within the sporting and technical rules, and we don’t feel they are being complied with…”

That summed up the mood of the paddock. Not only were the forthcoming rules unacceptable, they had been arrived at unilaterally, with no consultation whatever with FOTA, the body whose members were being required to abide by them.

“What the hell is this budget cap, anyway?” another team principal said. “It started off at £30m, and then suddenly it went to £40m – plus the cost of drivers and hospitality, which takes us pretty much to… God knows what. Already it’s more than doubled, so where will it finish up? Probably about where we’d agreed among ourselves we needed to be – so why do we need to have ‘a cap’ imposed at all?”

Urgency was in the air at Barcelona, and not surprisingly, for the FIA had decreed that all teams intending to enter for the 2010 World Championship must register between May 22-29. What reason could there truly be for such an early deadline, other than the governing body’s desire to put pressure on their good friends at FOTA?

And so it was that Max Mosley, Bernie Ecclestone and the F1 team principals came together at a Heathrow hotel on Friday, May 15, in an attempt to thrash out some sort of agreement acceptable to all. Going in, there seemed to be intransigence on all sides – and not much changed thereafter.

When the meeting concluded, Mosley emerged to say that there had been ‘friendly discussions’, but nothing had been agreed. As it turned out, that wasn’t strictly true, in the sense that common sense appeared to have prevailed on the question of different rules for different competitors. Ecclestone – not Mosley – later declared that in 2010 everyone would run to the same regulations. “I thought the ‘two-tier’ rules thing was stupid,” he said. “It was important to get rid of it.”

If the FIA had been seen to ‘give way’ on that (which, given the absurdity of the idea, was surely always the plan), it was not prepared to back down on the matter of the budget cap – and that the teams were not prepared to accept, at least at the level currently proposed.

“In the end,” said Max, “the teams have gone off to see if they can come up with something better than the cost cap…”

We had thought, though, that the ‘cost cap’ was not negotiable.

“We explained to them that we cannot put back the entry date, as this has all been published, and we cannot disadvantage the potential new teams who will come in. But we are prepared to listen to whatever they have to say.

“In the meantime, the rules are as published. We have explained that we want everyone to race under the same regulations – and that we would like all the teams to come in under the cost cap. I think some of the teams agree, and some don’t, and they have gone away to discuss it…”

So they did, and when they came out of their meeting they were unwilling to say very much.

What did emerge at the meeting, though, was ample confirmation of Ferrari’s long-standing ‘special right’ to veto technical regulations, for it transpired that the company had gone to the French courts in quest of an injunction against the FIA – on the grounds that the introduction of the 2010 rules was a breach of their veto agreement!

A ticklish situation, is it not? One thing, after all, for Ferrari to have such an agreement with the FIA – but quite another, when you think about it, when the chairman of Ferrari is also the chairman of FOTA, for it could be claimed that, in effect, FOTA theoretically now has a right of veto over technical regulations. If the ‘agreement’ with Ferrari is still in force, that is.

Whatever, as far as the FIA is concerned, it’s suddenly the ‘little teams’ that apparently matter most of all, those with aspirations to come into Formula 1, who will receive helpful ‘funding’ to do so. And if Ferrari, Renault, Toyota, Red Bull and Toro Rosso withdraw, well, so be it. What was it Bernie said about preferring a small, high- quality grid?

I’m off to Monaco in a few days’ time, where more ‘meetings’ are scheduled. It looks like being real fun.

*****

Aday or two before leaving for Barcelona, as I walked down Regent Street I began to wonder if there had been an ‘incident’ of some kind, for there were barriers everywhere and a great mass of people hanging around, on the pavement and in the road. A lot of police were on hand, together with several ‘security’ types. Whatever was going on?

The opening of the Ferrari Store, that’s what, and that was what I was there for. The side street beyond was closed to traffic, and all down it – parked across the road – were sumptuous Maranello products of all vintages, including Nick Mason’s sublime GTO. Coping with the car’s competition clutch in thick London traffic had not, Nick said, been a task he wished to undertake again any time soon.

Gaining access to the store, coping with all the security, was a little like a rehearsal for the Oscars. And although the place is sizeable, and over two floors, it soon got mighty crowded and hot. Eventually Kimi Räikkönen arrived to do the formal opening – he put on his best jeans for the occasion – and I wondered if Luca di Montezemolo might also make an appearance, for he was due in England that day, anyway, for a FOTA meeting at the Sofitel at Heathrow.

I was told, though, that no, Luca wouldn’t be coming; there was too much to do in preparation for a very crucial meeting. “You know,” someone murmured darkly, “if Max Mosley thinks he can bring down di Montezemolo like he brought down Ron Dennis, he is making a big mistake…”

That afternoon the FOTA members duly had their meeting, and that afternoon, too, the tragic death was announced of Alexander Mosley. His father had arranged to take over the Friday press conference in Barcelona, in order to make a major speech about the state of play in F1, but now quite obviously his trip was cancelled.

Necessarily absent Mosley may have been in Spain, but still the paddock was in a state of ferment, and I was left in no doubts whatever that F1 had faced nothing like this since the FISA/FOCA war of 1980-81. This was of course amplified the following week by the lack of agreement at the meeting detailed earlier.

The irony is that Ferrari, who most would say have had ‘an unusually good relationship’ with Max-and-Bernie down the years, suddenly find themselves cast in the role of victim. Through the months of ‘Spygate’, which culminated in the $100m fine for McLaren, Ferrari people – notably Jean Todt, then the man at the helm – passed up no opportunity to heap praise on Mosley for his handling of the affair, but now there is an emphatic change of heart.

In Barcelona one of their number mournfully mused that they had missed their chance to bring Mosley down. At Montréal in June 2008 the teams signed a declaration insisting, in the wake of the News of the World scandal, that Max had to go. Ferrari alone declined, and thus unanimity was not achieved, and the matter went no further. This, apparently, was because ‘someone’ had his own agenda.

He surely can’t have been talking about M Todt, who long entertained hopes of one day succeeding Mosley as FIA president – and now, released from all his Ferrari commitments, may still have aspirations in that direction.

*****

Time was when Enzo Ferrari so frequently threatened to quit motor racing that folk ceased to take him seriously, although history shows that usually he got his way in the end. The Old Man, it seemed, was always at war with somebody or other, and in these situations his default position was imminent withdrawal from the sport. And although he has been gone these 20 years and more, inevitably the latest Ferrari threat to pull out, announced by di Montezemolo, has had a resonance of times gone by.

Back in 1957, for example, the Commendatore – by which title, incidentally, he hated to be addressed, much preferring ‘Ingegnere’ – was under siege in his own land. In May, during the late stages of the Mille Miglia, Alfonso de Portago’s car suffered a tyre failure which precipitated a catastrophic accident: not only the driver and his navigator perished, but also nine spectators, five of whom were children.

“It was,” said the late Phil Hill, “one of those times when even the Vatican pitched in…”

In the press Ferrari was vilified as the creator of these machines of carnage, and there were widespread demands for motor racing to be banned. Eventually he was even charged with manslaughter, on the grounds that he had sanctioned the fitting of tyres (from the Belgian manufacturer, Englebert) not up to coping with the performance of his cars.

Four years on, Enzo was exonerated in the Mille Miglia tragedy, but for now he was mighty upset, and decided a gesture of some sort was required. Come August of 1957, therefore, he announced he would not be entering any cars for the Pescara Grand Prix.

Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins thus missed the last true open road race to figure in the World Championship, but Luigi Musso – since the death of Eugenio Castellotti the only front-rank Italian driver – implored Ferrari to let him have a car for the race. The Old Man relented – but only so long as Musso entered the car in his own name, rather than that of the Scuderia.

Seven years on, and there was more dissension, this time with the Automobile Club d’Italia over the question of homologation for the 250LM GT car. On this occasion Ferrari – ever the pragmatist for all his flamboyant words and gestures – did not threaten to leave the sport entirely, for two races in the World Championship remained, and John Surtees was in with a shout at the title.

Instead Enzo declared that he was renouncing his Italian entrant’s licence, and added that no cars bearing his name would ever race on home soil again. In so doing, he was leaving himself plenty of leeway, for the Italian Grand Prix had been run very recently, and ahead lay a whole winter during which the ACI could… reconsider.

In the meantime, the championship was to conclude with the US and Mexican Grands Prix, and the Old Man got his message across by having Luigi Chinetti, his American agent and long-time partner in crime, enter the cars of Surtees and Lorenzo Bandini under the banner of Chinetti’s North American Racing Team, and painted appropriately in NART’s white-and-blue colours.

When Jim Clark’s Lotus gave up the ghost on the final lap in Mexico, Surtees clinched the 1964 title, but much kudos was lost in Italian racing circles – although not by Ferrari – by the absence of Racing Red. This, Franco Gozzi once told me, was a source of particular mischievous pleasure to the Old Man. Oh, and by the way, the homologation problems with the LM disappeared into the ether…

Fast forward to the mid-80s, by which time Ferrari was also in his mid-eighties, but no less feisty for that. Now his beef was two-fold, first with Bernie Ecclestone and the ever-increasing influence of the Formula One Constructors Association (to which Enzo contemptuously referred as ‘garagistes’), second with the FIA.

The governing body’s great sin had been to propose for the forthcoming post-turbo F1 era a maximum number of cylinders which fell short of the 12 required by the Old Man for what he traditionally regarded as a ‘real racing engine’. His requests that the FIA reconsider went unheeded, just as FOCA’s burgeoning power was going unchecked, and he felt the need to convey his dissatisfaction to one and all. This he did by announcing that Ferrari was going into Indycar racing.

Gustav Brunner was hired by Ferrari to design an Indycar, and this he did, but few believed it would ever come to be built. When photographs of the car were published in an Italian magazine it caused a sensation, and more soon followed, this time with Michele Alboreto pounding round Fiorano. If this were merely a stunt to get the FIA’s attention, it was a mighty expensive one.

The plan had been for Truesports to run the car in the 1987 season, with Bobby Rahal at the wheel, but in fact Rahal was never even to sit in the Indy Ferrari, and the project was quietly dropped, for no reason that was announced at the time. In 1989, however, the turbocharged V8 engine – now rebadged as an Alfa Romeo – did surface in the CART series, in the back of Roberto Guerrero’s March.

That same year the new, normally-aspirated Formula 1 got underway, and at the opening race, in Rio, the Ferraris of Gerhard Berger and Nigel Mansell were powered by… V12 engines. Now, who’d have thought it?

*****

We’re delighted to be going to Silverstone – it has excellent facilities and a great heritage.”

The words, sadly for British fans, are not from any of the powers-that-be in F1, but from Carmelo Ezpeleta, the boss of Dorna. Not even Bernie Ecclestone could suggest that Silverstone has other than a great heritage, but I guess he would take issue with Ezpeleta’s assessment of its facilities, which may comfortably overwhelm those of a place like Interlagos, but hardly stand comparison with such as Shanghai and Sepang, where the state-of-the-art loos outnumber the spectators.

Only two circuits – Barcelona and Sepang – are visited by both the bikes and the cars in 2009, so Mr Ezpeleta’s schedule is somewhat different from ours in F1. For one thing, 11 of the 17 races are in Europe; for another, two more are in the USA.

The only race dropped from the MotoGP calendar this year is… Shanghai.

For 2010, as the bikes move from Donington to Silverstone, so the cars – theoretically, anyway – head in the opposite direction. As things stand, therefore, June 21 is to be the last time around for Grand Prix cars at Silverstone, and even as I write those words I have trouble believing them.

‘A great heritage’ the place unquestionably has, as Ezpeleta said. The first British GP at Silverstone – which resulted in a Maserati one-two for Villoresi and Ascari – was run 61 years ago, and ‘Toulo’ de Graffenried, also in a Maserati, won the 1949 race.

In 1950, however, the British GP took on a greater significance, for this was the year of the inception of the World Championship, and the race, also honoured as the Grand Prix d’Europe, was the first in which points (8-6-4-3-2-1) were awarded.

According to WB’s report in Motor Sport, a crowd estimated at 150,000 was in attendance, and anyone with memories of getting into and out of Silverstone in the old days will shudder at the thought. Even then, however, before helicopters were ten-a-penny, there were ways around the traffic problem if you knew the right people. On race morning the four factory Alfa Romeo 158s were driven by mechanics from the team’s base in Banbury to the circuit – and, what’s more, given every assistance by police along the way. And if you were the right people, it was even more straightforward.

I have never been able to resist quirky items at auctions, and long ago acquired a sheaf of foolscap pages, headed, ‘Confidential. Proposed time schedule and sequence of events for the Royal Visit, Grand Prix d’Europe, 13th May 1950’.

Reading through the document again, it is impossible not to be charmed. Their Majesties, plus entourage, were to journey to Brackley in the Royal Train, alighting at 1.45pm. From there – with the Chief Constable of Northamptonshire leading the way – a convoy of limousines were to proceed to the circuit, arriving at 2.05. Twenty minutes from Brackley to Silverstone on British Grand Prix day will likely stand as a record for all time.

Once at Silverstone, however, their pace was trimmed. ‘It is hoped that Their Majesties will drive around the Race Track. The length of the Circuit is three miles. It is suggested that the Royal Car should travel at approximately 20 miles per hour. Owing to the size of the Race Track, this speed should not be found too fast.’

Their lap completed, the King and Queen were then to meet the drivers, during which time the Band of the Grenadier Guards would play ‘suitable music’.

The fundamental point of the British Grand Prix – to finish it before anyone else – was the same then as now, but in other respects there has been the odd change here and there.

According to the race programme notes, for example, in 1950 the organisers were actively looking for ways to make the circuit faster. ‘As set out now, the course measures 2 miles 1564 yards, and all artificial restrictions on speed’ – in other words, chicanes – ‘have been eliminated.

‘Fastest swerve of all is Maggotts, where the aces may be observed in full flight, in that spectacular state of progress known as a “four wheel drift”. The drift has to be smartly brought in hand to cope with the Becketts, and then it’s wham through Chapel to Hangar Straight, fastest place of all.’

Attitudes, to our sport, and much else, were somewhat different in those days, as evidenced by the programme’s listing, for the benefit of the spectators, some of the fundamentals of Grand Prix racing as it was in 1950.

‘The Race Goes On. Motor racing must have its dangers, and though every precaution is taken; though the drivers competing today are the most skilful in the world, there may be accidents. It is a tradition of Grand Prix racing that whatever happens the race shall go on.

‘Pass, Friend. The French were the pioneers of motor racing, and ever since it has been a tradition to use their rule-of-the-road. Therefore, overtaking drivers should pull over to the left-hand side of the road.

‘Smoking Permitted. Grand Prix drivers do not normally have to undergo strict physical training. Moderation in eating, drinking and smoking is sufficient, for motor racing is a test of brain rather than brawn.’

Given the current uncertainty as to the path F1 will take in the coming years, much has been made of Ferrari’s unwillingness to countenance a ‘budget cap’ imposed by the FIA. Max Mosley’s immediate response was that ‘F1 can survive without Ferrari’, which Bernie Ecclestone countered with ‘F1 is Ferrari’.

Newspapers have trumpeted that Ferrari is the only team to be have been involved in the World Championship from the very beginning, but in fact that is not strictly true, for Enzo’s cars were not at Silverstone for the inaugural race, having been withdrawn following a disagreement over ‘starting money’.

Down the years this situation would occur not infrequently, but on this occasion Ferrari’s absence was particularly regretted, for the inevitable consequence was that the Alfas would be completely unopposed. Juan Manuel Fangio, Giuseppe Farina and Luigi Fagioli were the regular team drivers, and, in honour of the occasion, a fourth car was entered for Reg Parnell, the leading Brit of the day.

Given that they faced a selection of elderly Maseratis, Talbots, Altas and ERAs, it was hardly a shock that the front row of the grid – four cars at Silverstone until 1969 – was entirely dark red, with Farina on pole.

A year earlier the fine British driver Bob Gerard had taken his ERA to second, behind de Graffenried’s Maserati. “I got a lot of satisfaction out of that,” he modestly told me, “but it rather flattered me – you’ve got to remember that Alfa weren’t there in ’49.”

So how had it been to race against the Alfas? Gerard smiled: “Oh, you didn’t race against them. You just set off for two or three hours at the same time they did…”

The only other events on the card that day were three races – two heats and a final – for 500cc F3 cars, and after whippersnappers Stirling Moss and Peter Collins had finished second and third to Wing-Commander F Aikens (complete with handlebar moustache), the 22 Grand Prix cars were wheeled to the grid, then situated between Abbey and Woodcote. Alongside the start-finish line was parked an elderly double-decker bus, in which sat the timekeepers.

The drivers, one or two in overalls, but most in cotton trousers and short-sleeved shirts, climbed aboard. It was not until 1952 that crash helmets became mandatory in Grand Prix racing, and while several of the British drivers already wore them, the continental preference remained for the time-honoured cloth helmet.

From the start the four Alfas disappeared into the distance. Parnell was not able to keep pace, and eventually Fagioli was also dropped, but Farina and Fangio ran in close company until lap 62, eight from the flag, when Juan Manuel came in with a broken oil pipe. Thus the imperious Farina won the first World Championship Grand Prix, in the process collecting prize money of £500, as detailed in the programme.

No, not much has changed.

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